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May 14, 2014

Baltimore is the latest major U.S. city to “ban the box.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is expected to sign a controversial bill that prohibits both private and public employers from asking job seekers about their criminal background on job applications. The bill passed the city council in April with a vote of 10-4.

The Baltimore law raises the stakes to a whole new level by imposing criminal penalties for employers who violate the law, including a fine of up to $500 per violation, and up to 90 days in prison. Employers found in violation may face both a fine and imprisonment for each offense.

Background check only after conditional job offer is made

Ironically, in an effort to help ex-cons, the Baltimore law creates a new class of criminals.

Under the bill, employers may ask about criminal history and conduct a criminal background check only after making a conditional offer of employment. The bill has been widely criticized by business groups who point out the time and expense posed by requiring a conditional offer of employment. The law provides a safe harbor for federal, state, or local mandates where a background check is required, and it also provides an exemption for employers who handle vulnerable populations.

The Greater Baltimore Committee, a local organization made up of business and civic leaders, objected to the bill. The group voiced concerns that the law will be a barrier for companies doing business in the city. Other critics argue that employers who do not want to waste time on candidates who ultimately will be disqualified will actually be more likely to discriminate.

Fewer conditional offers coming?

A recent letter to the editor published in the Baltimore Sun made the following argument:

Since employers are not allowed to inquire about criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment is made, employers may make fewer conditional offers of employment to those they suspect have criminal histories. African-Americans make up a disproportionate amount of the prison population. Therefore, African-Americans without criminal history may not receive job offers for fear that the offer will need to be rescinded once a criminal background check is completed.”

Supporters hope the law will promote the hiring of ex-offenders and reduce recidivism.

No two ban the box laws are alike

Employers everywhere need to be aware of ban the box laws, as they continue to sweep across the country at both the state and local level. See related stories on San Francisco, Target Corporation and other jurisdictions.

And unfortunately, no two jurisdictions are exactly alike. We recommend talking to your legal counsel for advice on how to comply with this and other laws. Your screening provider is a good resource for administrative solutions. Stay tuned for more updates.

This was originally published on the EmployeeScreen IQ blogEmployeeScreen IQ is not a law firm, and the contents of this article are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice.